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After blowout loss, UNLV refocuses for rivalry game with UNR

It only took fifth-year guard Jordan McCabe a split second to name the highlight of his UNLV career so far. He has only spent two seasons in Las Vegas, but he understands the dynamics at play.

“I haven’t lost to Reno yet,” he said.

The Rebels will wrap up their regular season Saturday with a trip up north to visit the rival Wolf Pack for a 2 p.m. game at Lawlor Events Center. UNLV coach Kevin Kruger is 3-0 against UNR, including a 68-62 win Jan. 28 at the Thomas & Mack Center.

The Rebels (17-12, 6-11 Mountain West) swept the Wolf Pack (22-8, 12-5) for the first time since 2012-13 last season, snapping UNLV’s eight-game losing streak against UNR. Kruger praised the Rebels for their engagement and focus ahead of the rivalry games.

“Guys have done a really good job of being active,” Kruger said.

Both teams enter Saturday coming off disappointing losses. UNLV was blown out by Utah State 91-66 at the Thomas & Mack Center, in a performance that led senior Justin Webster to apologize to fans during his postgame news conference.

UNR — projected by ESPN as one of the last four teams in the NCAA Tournament field — lost at last-place Wyoming 80-71 on Monday. Despite the loss, UNR has played at a high level all season, Kruger said, and it has taken a big defensive effort from UNLV in each of its past three wins against the Wolf Pack.

UNLV senior center David Muoka said the team took ownership for its performance against Utah State. He said the players recognize they weren’t close to their best, individually or as a unit.

“We looked out of sorts,” Muoka said. “Just as a whole collective, we’re trying to lift ourselves up.”

However, he also said that with UNR and the Mountain West tournament on the horizon, there isn’t much time to dwell on the defeat. Muoka said the team had positive practices and renewed energy the past two days.

One source of that is the return from injury of senior Luis Rodriguez, who played 20 minutes against Utah State in his first action since Feb. 11. Kruger said he was glad to see Rodriguez back on the court, but he is going to need some time to get back into a rhythm.

Muoka, a senior from Hong Kong, also knows this is the Rebels’ final chance to build any kind of momentum going into the conference tournament. UNLV has lost four of its past five games, with the only win coming against Air Force on a last-second tip-in by fifth-year guard EJ Harkless.

Muoka said the team needs to be aggressive and assert itself early, and the Rebels need to set the tone for how they approach the tournament, which starts Wednesday at the Thomas & Mack Center.

“We won’t go down without a fight,” Muoka said.

Contact reporter Andy Yamashita at ayamashita@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ANYamashita on Twitter.

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